Breathing is the basis of life, after all. What’s that saying… you can go without food for a month, you can go without water for 7 days, but you can only go without breathing for 3 minutes before your brain begins to die. We breath 20,000 times a day! It makes sense if I’m doing something 20,000 times a day, I’d like to be know more about it, and feel like I can have an impact on something that is so important. Right!?
How does good breathing benefit those of you with chronic complex diseases? One of the biggest problems with being chronically ill is not being able to get enough movement into your daily life. This can cause a significant amount of stagnation in lymph and blood flow. Did you know that breathing deeply brings more oxygen into the blood, as well as improving lymph flow? It also happens to be the best massage for your digestive system there is… and you don’t have to travel or pay money for it!
Let’s look at some basics about how this all works. Every time you inhale your diaphragm goes from a dome shape (at about the 5th rib, which for women is about where a bra might be) to a more flattened out shape. This is more dramatically experienced on a “diaphragmatic breath”. On an inhale the diaphragm will move 2-3 cm (just under 1 inch) downwards towards the pelvis. The organs below the diaphragm simultaneously move down and then forward.
See this for yourself. Lay down on your back, knees bent and put something on your stomach, like a light book or an eye pillow. As you breath in, the diaphragm moves down towards the pelvis and the belly goes towards the ceiling. As you continue your deep breath, the rib cage widens and the sternum (the breast bone) rises to the ceiling as well. Does this happen for you? Take a moment to notice how your breath feels to you.
Here is a effective, simple way to make a change in your breath. Place your hands horizontally at the front of your rib cage at the level of your diaphragm at the dome (for women, just below bra strap zone.) Move your hands down with the inhale and up with the exhale. You could also imagine the diaphragm to be like an elevator moving up and down in its shaft (the ribs). As you inhale the elevator goes down, and as you exhale the elevator goes up.
Excerpt from Dynamic Alignment by Eric Franklin
Take some deep breaths again and notice if you feel a change. Perhaps more movement, or a sense of breathing with more ease?
Now let’s try the free, no travel necessary abdominal massage. Notice in the picture above how the liver and stomach are right under the diaphragm. Also notice how the intestines are just below the liver and stomach. They ALL move, glide and slide when you breath as well as in every movement you do. Isn’t that cool!
Have you ever considered this internal movement of your organs before?
Now try this: Lay on your back, knees bent, and inhale. In this moment, as the diaphragm descends, the abdominal organs are moving, gliding, and sliding towards the pelvis. They reach a point where they can’t go down anymore and start to be compressed, and your belly rises. This is your organs being compressed – squeezed like a sponge.
As you exhale, the diaphragm returns to it’s dome shape and the organs decompress. Voila! – abdominal massage.
Do this 6-8 times, and imagine that the organs are being squeezed like a sponge. You can even use your hands over your abdominal organs in a squeeze and release action – as if you were wringing a sponge.
To help out even more, say it to yourself – squeeze like a sponge, and release. Squeeze on the inhale, and release on the exhale.
After you’ve done this 6-8 times, stop to see how you feel. Maybe move your spine around, bring the knees towards the chest, any movement you’d like. Do you feel different somehow? Is there some improvement?
If you haven’t moved much recently, do this slowly and thoughtfully, and stop whenever you feel you need to. Do a little each day, working up to what feels good to you.
The magic doesn’t stop there. The organs above the diaphragm move as well! Besides the lungs moving, the lining around the heart (called the pericardium) has a substantial ligament that attaches to the diaphragm. With each inhale the diaphragm descends, lengthening that ligament. On the exhale the diaphragm goes back up to its dome shape and recoils that ligament, giving the heart and pericardium an action similar to massage.
Try this on yourself, either sitting or standing with your spine nice and tall. Put your right hand over your heart. With each inhale let your hand glide down a few centimeters towards your belly. On the exhale let it glide back up.
If you want to add another part, use your left hand as a representation of your diaphragm. Both hands follow the downward motion on the inhale and the upward motion of the exhale.
Feel free to move your spine around while you do this. I like to arch back with the chest up to the ceiling doing a full breath. Perhaps you can feel more ease in your chest and/or your breathing. Notice any change in your body, and take a moment to appreciate that change.
So take several deep conscious breaths now, know how your diaphragm moves and impacts the organs above and below it, and take note of any changes you may feel. I hope that this helps you live more comfortably in your body and gets your blood, lymph, and organs moving. Blessings to you embodying the healthier you.